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Runaway inflation 

The Times of London reported in December that Cheltenham, England, shopkeeper Samantha Munns had punctured her thigh two weeks earlier when she fell on the nozzle of a balloon-inflating canister. Within seconds, enough helium gas (inert, nonpoisonous) had entered the subcutaneous tissue in her leg and abdomen to cause them to swell (painfully) to twice their normal size. Munns was treated at Cheltenham General Hospital by physician Alison Moon, who said she could find only one similar case in medical textbooks. The doctor told Munns to rest while the gas dissipated.

Giving the gift of music

In a November raid on a warehouse used by Red Command -- Rio de Janeiro's most prominent drug-and-money-laundering gang -- police discovered hundreds of freshly made copies of a CD, "Prohibited Rap," which the gang's neighborhood lieutenants had intended as Christmas presents for their best cocaine customers. Lamented one gang member, "We were trying to do something special. What are we going to give our people now?"

A game of squash

Rice Lake, Wis., pumpkin farmer Hugh Mommsen told a reporter working the Halloween beat that he was ready to step up from his pumpkin catapult -- which can send a 30-pound pumpkin 150 feet up and 400 feet out -- to the even-more-powerful pumpkin cannon. Mommsen noted that the magnitude of the resulting splatter depends not only on the force of impact, but also on the variety of pumpkin.

Armless fun for the kids

On July 17, Michael Adams, 13, caught his arm in an irrigation machine while working alone on his family's alfalfa farm near Crane, Ore., and watched as the arm was severed just above the elbow. He picked up the arm, walked 100 yards to a vehicle and drove for help. Unable to steer properly, Adams crashed, but then walked to another vehicle and drove it to a friend's home. (He even comforted his distraught parents when they arrived.) The arm was reattached, and Adams is doing fine.

Churl, interrupted

Inmate Timothy Marshall, 39, recently petitioned a Florida Court of Appeal judge to release him early in 2000, as per the terms of a 15-year cocaine-trafficking sentence he had received in 1985. The only problem, said the judge, was that Marshall had escaped in 1987, and was recaptured only two years ago. Marshall now accuses the state of "wrongfully refusing to give him credit" for time served while on the run. (The petition was denied.)

Bouncing back

In September, Alexander J. Blastos, 34, was arrested in Florida and charged with writing a bad check for $9,600 to cover the cost of a private jet flight back to Keene, N.H., where he was due to appear in court on federal wire-fraud charges. However, when New Orleans check-forgery defendant Keefe Anderson, 34, tried to post bail in October with another forged check, it worked; Judge Charles Elloie also accepted without investigation a bail petition that included bogus addresses. Anderson, who police said is also a suspect in a murder investigation, immediately skipped town.

Food, folks and funding

Russia's venerable National Philharmonic Orchestra, touring Great Britain in November with almost no financial support from its homeland, was forced to play for spare change outside a McDonald's restaurant in Swansea, Wales. The musicians took in about $32.

Withdrawal policy

Authorities in Tokyo began investigating the giant finance company Nichiei in November, after two debtors reported that Nichiei loan managers had pressured them to sell their kidneys and other body parts to meet payment schedules. According to a separate lawsuit, another Nichiei employee demanded that a debtor sell his daughter into prostitution. Nichiei is the country's leading lender to small businesses.

Rest rooms for customers only

Twenty-eight of Warsaw, Poland's 42 prime-location public rest rooms were leased in early 1999 to private companies, on the condition that they renovate and maintain the toilets. The result, according to an August Associated Press dispatch, has been a variety of small shops operating out of the facilities, including taverns, a veterinary clinic and even the Lunch Time restaurant, which features a salad bar.

Double jeopardy

A vigorously protesting Enrique Salinas, 37, was arrested in Detroit in September on a New Mexico shoplifting warrant, held 38 days, then returned to a Santa Fe jail. Authorities have now decided they had the wrong Enrique Salinas, although the one they arrested was born on the same date and had a similar facial scar. And Los Angeles County agreed in December to pay Ray Nugent $150,000 for wrongly jailing him in 1988 (and again on the same warrant in 1993) on armed-robbery charges; authorities have since concluded that the robbery was committed by Ray's evil twin brother, Jay Nugent, who is believed to be hiding in Canada.

Running on empty

Shoplifters Malcolm Sloan, 27 ($68 designer shirt), and Ryan M. Keyes, 18 (loot unreported), dashed out of stores in, respectively, Warwick, R.I., in September, and Pittsburgh in June, and led police on foot chases. Sloan's ended when he drowned in the Allegheny River; Keyes was fatally struck by a truck while crossing a street.

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